Opportunity Knocks! Farthest-Driving Mars Rover Explores Eroded Valley

Wheel tracks from NASA's Mars rover Opportunity descending and departing the "Cape Tribulation" segment of Endeavour Crater's rim are visible in this April 21, 2017, view from the rover's Panoramic Camera (Pancam). The rover looked back northward during its trek south to "Perseverance Valley." (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has reached its next destination — a valley called Perseverance, where the long-lived robot will scour the surface for clues about how the vast crevice formed. 

Opportunity arrived at Perseverance Valley — an ancient feature that extends about two football fields down from the western rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour Crater — on May 4, according to a statement from NASA. Images taken by the rover so far provide an up-close view of the area that could not have been captured by satellites in orbit above Mars, agency officials said.  

This graphic shows the route that NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove in its final approach to "Perseverance Valley" on the western rim of Endeavour Crater during spring 2017. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/NMMNH)

"The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses about how the valley formed," Opportunity project scientist Matt Golombek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the statement. [13 Years On Mars! NASA Opportunity Rover Still Rolling (Video)]

Researchers theorize that Perseverance Valley formed billions of years ago through processes of erosion involving wind, water or a "debris flow in which a small amount of water lubricated a turbulent mix of mud and boulders," NASA officials said in the statement. 

Rover team members will use images captured by Opportunity to look for variations in the texture and composition of the terrain as the six-wheeled robot travels down through the valley. Such work will help researchers better understand how and when the valley formed, and possibly reveal new clues about Mars' watery past.

"Perseverance Valley" lies just on the other side of the dip in the crater rim visible in this view from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's long-lived Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which arrived at this destination in early May 2017 in preparation for driving down the valley. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Opportunity will begin investigating the area by taking sets of images from two widely separated points at a dip in the crater’s rim, which will provide an "extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional analysis of the terrain," NASA officials said in the statement

This vantage point will help the rover team chart a safe course for Opportunity to travel through the valley. However, before venturing into Perseverance Valley, the rover will explore the top of the valley, west of the crater rim, according to the statement.   

Opportunity has been investigating various sites along Endeavour's rim since August 2011. Before reaching Perseverance Valley, the rover spent 2.5 years exploring a rim segment called Cape Tribulation

Since landing on Mars in January 2004, Opportunity has driven a total of 27.8 miles (44.7 km) — farther than any other vehicle has ever traveled on a world beyond Earth.

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.